Geothermal project debate: the issue of trust
Over the past few weeks Dominicans at home and abroad have joined the debate about the geothermal project currently being implemented in the Roseau Valley. This sometimes noisy debate began many months after the government had spent more than twenty million dollars on the exploration phase and for many years had spoken about the benefits of the project to the Dominican economy, as if geothermal was manna from Heaven.
But a few weeks ago, the people of the Roseau Valley in particular suddenly found their voice and began clamouring for information about that geothermal project being established virtually on their doorsteps. The villagers claimed that their government had kept them ignorant about the dangers associated with harnessing energy from rocks hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth.
But Rayburn Blackmore, the minister responsible for energy, discredited the arguments of the people and even contended that that certain persons were trying to derail the project for political reasons. Blackmore argued that his government had taken all necessary measures to ensure that the people and the environment in that area would not be affected in any way. He said the Government of Dominica, in partnership with the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), a consulting firm, had been commissioned to undertake an Environmental Impact Study (EIA). CARAÏBES ENVIRONNEMENT, according to Blackmore, presented a first draft report on July 28, 2011 and the final version on January 22, 2012. Nevertheless, the people of the Valley said they have not seen that EIA report and do not know the contents of that EIA that Mr. Blackmore spoke about.
Additionally, Blackmore reported that in January 2011 his Government conducted community consultations and a public awareness drive before and during the exploratory drilling phase in the villages of Trafalgar, Wotten Waven and Laudat. Schools were even involved in designing project logos and the government organised town hall style meetings to ensure that all the villagers' concerns were heard.
Well, given the current discussion in the Valley, it seems the Government's public education effort was a total failure. For example, Dr. Christiana Abraham wrote in an opinion piece in last week's edition of the Sun that accountability and guarantees have not been provided by the government. She wrote: "One of the important issues this raises is who is/will be responsible for any short and long-term harm done to residents of Laudat and the Roseau Valley. If people are made sick, or God forbid, killed because of air or water contamination, land subsidence or volcanic activity, who will assume responsibility? The Iceland Drilling Company? The Government of Dominica? The funding agencies? People want to know what health and safety guarantees have been put in place and who will be responsible for continuous health, and environmental monitoring?"
Additionally, Gary Shillingford, a resident of Laudat and a lead spokesman of the "protest", probably missed all important aspects of the village consultations and public awareness campaign since he told the national station, DBS Radio, that "we want to be aware of what is going to happen, we want to know what you getting in the ground, we want to know that it is going to be safe. If it is safe and viable, then fine. Our main concern is the safety of our people."
It is our view the extraction of geothermal energy from the hot rocks below the ground may be a safe and economically viable venture, if the technicians know what they were doing and took the necessary precautions. In fact engineer Washway Douglas, (Mr. Blackmore accused him of wishing to "wash away" the geothermal project in the Roseau Valley) contended in a press release that "Dominica has huge potential of geothermal energy, and with the neighbouring French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe huge demand for inexpensive clean energy, Dominica has a great opportunity to supply these islands with clean energy while significantly lowering the price of electricity in Dominica."
So, if Mr Blackmore has done all that he said his ministry has done, why is the Government of Dominica having a crisis on its hands with regard to its project in the Roseau Valley? Douglas believes that "a lack of inclusion/transparency caused the current anxiety.
We agree and we add that the geothermal crisis is a manifestation of an acute lack of trust and confidence in government's ability to undertake projects in the interest of the people. In other words, no matter what Mr Blackmore says, the people in the Roseau Valley do not trust him and his government. And that is probably applicable to other communities in Dominica since they have been victims of graft, corruption and the legal machinations of contemporary politicians. The society has lost confidence not only in its politicians but also the private sector, schools, police, lawyers, judges as well as the church and the press.
Social scientists contend that a shared sense of trust, a basic belief in the cooperativeness and unselfishness of human nature, is vital to building a strong civil society. Trust, they argue, is the glue that binds society together.